Indigenous response to increased crime: “Either help us solve the problem, or get out of the way…”

Residents in the south-east corner of Bear Paw Crescent on the Muskoday First Nation were rudely awakened at about 5:00 AM on April 1st to the sound of gun shots from a shotgun and an assault rifle. Three homes were hit, two in which no family members were in gangs.. One home has over 130 pellets embedded in its siding, while in the other a high-power rifle bullet made its way through three walls and a child’s bed before finally burying itself in a fourth wall. While no one was hurt following this incident, a $5,000 reward has been posted for anyone who can come forward with information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individuals so involved.

Furious over the sheer random recklessness under which the shootings took place, community members have asked Chief and Council to seek a resolution to the epidemic of crystal meth and cocaine drug dealing on both reserves and within communities surrounding Prince Albert.

Under normal circumstances individuals are usually fearful that if they come forward to testify or provide information to the police, they may be targeted for future retaliation. However, in this case where a child could have been killed had he not been sleeping in another room, local gang leaders are well aware that this incident’s publicity will inevitably trigger a heightened vigilance in their daily routines, and lead to further arrests, curb ancillary “business activities” and reduce their customer base for as long as pressure is brought to bear to find the shooters. As a result, police are hoping that an “anonymous” source in the gang’s hierarchy will eventually provide them with the information they seek.

Such incidents are becoming almost daily occurrences on reserves around Prince Albert, and the general feeling coming from these communities is that it’s time for strong action to be taken against residents selling mostly crystal meth and cocaine derivatives from reserve-owned homes. Such actions most likely would include immediate eviction; however, other remedial and preventative measures that have been suggested include advising adults with drug addiction issues to either enter into a program or be evicted, or adults who have put their children at risk through such behaviours be referred to Indigenous Family Services. Bands are now rushing to establish Tribal police services, principally as a way of engendering more cooperation in providing information as to current or potential criminal activities on reserve, which would effectively dampen a gang’s ability to threaten “rats” with retaliation.

Due to their smaller population base, members of Council are occasionally caught between the proverbial “rock and a hard place” wherein a family member may be on the agenda as a candidate for eviction and even possibly banishment from the reserve, thereby causing severe headaches in trying to find on what side they should vote in this family’s affairs. However, by far the biggest problem stems from the fact that if a community member is evicted from reserve housing, local communities, especially in Prince Albert, only see such actions being nothing more than the bands “dumping” their criminal issues back onto the doorsteps of the larger communities.

Indigenous leaders see the provincial government’s attitude towards crime on reserves as two-faced, reactionary and completely inadequate. More women’s shelters and “safe” house” investment called for in the latest provincial budget may look great on paper, but rhetoric such as that being provided by Mayor Greg Dionne to “put a stop to the catch-and-release mentality of a justice system that is increasingly ‘soft on crime’” simply ignores the reality that such action do nothing to resolve the issues that created the problem in the first place. Not surprisingly, Indigenous adults take a completely different perspective to these matters. As one resident from Muskoday noted, “We don’t need kids from P.A. coming to the rez to buy their sh*t; [if one of them] gets hurt,” the problem is now “owned” by the reserve. As for the budget calling for increased funding for patrol of rural areas, critics of the soon-to-be created Marshal’s Service are already describing its members as poorly trained “goon cowboy(s)… pretending to be a SWAT team” looking for any reason to “kill our kids.”

Clearly, then, with feelings being elevated to such emotional levels of outburst, a less controversial approach has to be considered in order to get this problem under control. One suggestion being considered is for local reserve leaders and Chiefs, along with the Prince Albert Police Commission, RCMP detachment commanders, reeves from surrounding communities and representatives from the Prince Albert Grand Council to form a special task force and draft a proposal for future and ongoing action to get these activities under control. In so doing, intelligence being gathered regarding criminal activities by provincial police forces in the region will keep these smaller communities apprised of its potential for harm, and thus make them more adequately prepared to respond to future potential crises.

Indigenous leaders see such a task force working only if Prince Albert and surrounding community leaders try to view the importance of Prince Albert to themselves through their own eyes. While the province may describe the city as “the Gateway to the North”, it’s also the first stop in the migration of the homeless and persons seeking meaningful job opportunities coming from northern locations that MLA’s are reluctant to even visit much less fiscally assist. Similar issues of increased criminal activity arose when Weyerhaeuser first attempted to reopen the paper mill facility. Back then, construction of low-cost housing units, apartments, and condominiums built to house the expected surge of persons moving to Prince Albert in anticipation of that opening should have started months in advance of this event even happening. Now, with only months before Paper Excellence opens its doors, nothing has been learned from that lesson nor any parallel apparently drawn by City Council, even though the increasing presence of abandoned shopping carts near our shopping malls indicates the presence of a homeless community the size of which neither police nor Council are prepared to measure. It therefore remains the question as to whether Mayor Dionne might wish to put a hold on his polemic, or as a city Indigenous resident noted, step up and help this task force do its job, or “Just shut up and get out of the way” while others do the job for him.